BY DAVE LINK
Alcoa won another state football championship last fall, won a boys’ state basketball championship in the winter, and won a girls’ state track and field title this spring.
Add another state title to Alcoa’s history books.
Earlier this month, the Alcoa Fishing Team won the Tennessee Bass Nation High School’s “Commissioner’s Cup” awarded to the state’s top high school team during a season.
“The top team, that’s huge,” said Joe Vaulton, a rising senior angler at Alcoa. “That’s like winning the state championship in football. I was saying we should get rings for it because football teams get rings.
“The top team is probably the biggest thing for us.”
In each TBN tournament, a school is awarded the winner based on its top three boats’ finishes and their combined total points.
The Alcoa Fishing Team won the June 2-3 TBN State Championship on Douglas Lake with boats placing 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in the standings among 203 boats.
Vaulton and Walker LaRue of Alcoa Fishing finished fourth, which was good enough for them to win the Tennessee Co-Anglers of the Year by the Tennessee Bass Nation. They finished ahead of 477 other teams (boats), compiling the most points in five statewide events and the State Championship on Douglas.
“That is the toughest achievement to get in the state of Tennessee,” said Alcoa Fishing Team coach J.J. LaRue, Walker’s father. “A tournament win a lot of times happens when you don’t expect it. A lot of times it’s one key bite that changes the outcome of an event.
“But to be crowned the state Anglers of the Year, or state points champions, that’s based on a whole series of points added together. The state trail is a large trail. They fished everywhere. It’s tournaments across the entire state.”
The Alcoa Fishing Team is still in its infancy.
J.J. LaRue started the team four years ago, and it has blossomed into a state power.
LaRue’s son and Vaulton are two of the team’s top anglers, but the coach has stressed the team aspect ahead of individuals competing.
“That’s been my whole thing has been to build a team, and it’s finally working,” J.J. LaRue said. “Fishing is a sport where a lot is individualized, so me and somebody can become partners and try to win everything and that’s great. But when you go from an individual tournament to the college level, from there, you become a team.
“In colleges, of course you want your team to win, I want Walker and his partner to win, but we need our team to do well all across the board because the bigger goal in collegiate fishing is to be one of the nationally top ranked teams. In order to achieve that, you have to have teams be consistently successful across the board.”
And that’s what the Alcoa Fishing Team has done this season.
It has won seven team titles in tournaments, most recently in the TBN State Championship.
“It was really cool to see our team win, too,” said Walker LaRue, a rising junior at Alcoa. “That was one of the best things. That’s what we were shooting for is the team winning the whole year because we’re always sharing information and stuff as a team.”
BIG DAY ON DOUGLAS
Vaulton and LaRue were eighth in the points race going into the State Championship, a two-day event with double-the-point opportunities.
“They put in enough work to earn it, going into the state championship,” J.J. LaRue said. “They were practicing 12 hours a day for two weeks. Walker burned 104 gallons of gas just in my boat the week leading up to the state championship, just idling, looking for fish offshore.”
LaRue and Vaulton knew they had a chance in the points race.
“We needed a top five,” Walker LaRue said. “The points leaders, it was all really depending on them (at Douglas). If they did good, it would have been hard to beat them.”
Instead, the Alcoa Fishing Team dominated the top of the leaderboard.
Trevor Sanford and Presley Lannom of Mt. Juliet were the winners with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 23.02 pounds. They had 12.92 pounds the first day – including a 4.29-pounder – and 10.35 pounds the second day.
Jackie Hatfield and Graham Willis of Alcoa Fishing were second with 10 bass weighing 22.70 pounds.
Harlyn Nelson and Jake Lovingood of Alcoa Fishing were third (10 bass, 22.36 pounds), while LaRue and Vaulton were fourth (10 bass, 22.23 pounds).
Joseph Mashburn and Kobe Walden of Clinton High were fifth (10 bass, 21.51 pounds).
“I had kind of a clue that we had a shot at winning the points,” Vaulton said, “but I knew it was a long shot and we’d have to have a really good finish.”
There were some tense moments during weigh-ins.
“We were stressing all the way until they called it up,” LaRue said.
Likewise, J.J. LaRue and his team didn’t realize they had a chance to win the Commissioner’s Cup until weigh-ins were nearly completed.
“This year, we’ve set the bar for Alcoa,” J.J. LaRue said. “I think we’ve finally put us on the map in the fishing world. There’s big teams that have done this for a lot of years: Sale Creek, Rhea County, Meigs, Mt. Juliet, Mt. Pleasant. Those teams out there have been very successful for a lot of years. We’re still young. We only have one senior (Zach Helton). We’re still a very young team with a lot of eighth graders coming up, so more to come, hopefully.”
J.J. LaRue was recognized as the Coach of the Year after the State Championship. His assistant is Anita Hatfield, Jackie’s mom.
Helton, a senior, was awarded the 2023 Hunter Northcutt Scholarship after the State Championship. He was selected based on his academics, community service, and an essay explaining how academics and high school fishing have impacted his life. Helton will attend Carson-Newman and fish there.
FINAL POINTS RACE
Alcoa Fishing Team had three teams place in the top 11 of the points race.
LaRue and Vaulton clinched the points race with 1,138 points, including 394 when they won the State Championship.
Hatfield and Willis were sixth with 1,080 points, and Nelson and Lovingood were 11th with 1,034 points.
Eyan Choate and Hayden Barnett of Kingston were second in the points race with 1,127 points. They had 382 points in the State Championship, when they finished 11th (10 bass, 20.74 pounds).
James Sumrell and Brody Harp of Hixson were third (1,123), followed by fourth-place Sandford and Lennon of Mt. Juliet (1,122), and fifth-place Eli Myers and Holden Harris of GCHS Bass (1,080).